The language on the ballot was pretty dense even for Plan of Government documents, but the voters wisely approved a proposal on Saturday that will reorganize the Department of Public Works in Baton Rouge’s city-parish government.
DPW is by far the largest city-parish department and one that has for a long time defied anything that can be called management. DPW directors, including current Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel, have found themselves besieged with decisions and paperwork for a wide variety of functions, from building inspections to transportation and drainage to fleet maintenance for vehicles.
But what particularly provoked Daniel and Mayor-President Kip Holden to undertake an extensive DPW reorganization is the challenge of the $1.5 billion sewer program mandated by the U.S. government. When complete, this massive project will require operation and maintenance of a computerized system of pipes and pumps — a higher level of sophistication than DPW is used to.
Further, as Daniel and legions of complaining citizens have testified, accountability for performance or lack thereof is difficult in such a sprawling DPW operation.
The new departments will be: environmental services; transportation and drainage; maintenance; buildings and grounds; fleet management; and development. Each will have a leader, which Daniel said will make each division more efficient, more transparent and more accountable, and he’s pledging that all can be accommodated in the current DPW budget. We’re sure that was an important selling point to the Metro Council, which unanimously backed the Plan of Government change. Voters agreed with almost 58 percent of the total vote, 65,686 for to 48,137 against.
The theory is that managers of each function will be able to make decisions more quickly and more closely monitor responses to problems and complaints, under the general direction of the Mayor-President’s Office.
It is that hope of quick decision-making that was among the reasons the Baton Rouge Area Chamber endorsed the plan, calling it an overdue streamlining of the bureaucracy that can stand in the way of construction and transportation projects vital to the area’s economic competitiveness.
Yet as we noted earlier, the ballot language and the specific change in the Plan of Government are only the tip of this particular iceberg. It involves a host of other changes that have been worked out in a couple of years of meetings with officials and those doing a lot of business with DPW.
We urge the Metro Council to stay on top of this process for oversight.
For most citizens, DPW functions are the face of city hall, and it is important that the city-parish government be more efficient at these tasks.